Birmingham Al, (al.com) Alabama opened its 1946 football season with a 26-7 victory over Furman. The game was played in Birmingham, and Dick Coffee was there.
And so began a remarkable streak.
The Crimson Tide will open its 2013 season on Aug. 31 when it meets Virginia Tech in Atlanta.
For the first time since that 1946 opener, Coffee will not be there. The acclaimed superfan from Birmingham died Friday at the age of 91.
“He was a great American and a great Alabama fan,” said Oakley Melton, 85, of Montgomery, who became friends with Coffee in 1946 at Alabama. “There’s never been anyone greater. He would go if it was raining, snowing, sleeting. Dick Coffee would be there, and his record was unblemished. He went to a game in Nashville where the weather was just unbearable. He didn’t let the weather hold him back.
“He had a full life. He’s going to be missed. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Coffee wasn’t known as somebody who would toot his own horn, as the saying goes. Figuratively, at least.
“He was head of the pep squad,” Melton said. “He blew an old bass horn and would go, ‘Toot, toot, toot, toot, toot,’ and all the students would yell, ‘Go!’
“He also had a card section that he organized. The students all had cards, and they put up different slogans.”
Coffee attended all 14 games last season, including a 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla.
“He was in a wheelchair and couldn’t hear, but he was at all of them,” said Ken Gaddy, director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa.
That made 781 consecutive games and 51 consecutive bowl games. That last one was a meaningful victory for Coffee, who had seen the Crimson Tide lose five of six previous games against the Fighting Irish.
“I thought he had the all-time record, and I sent it to the Guinness Book of World Records when he got up to about 700,” Melton said. “They wrote back and said no, he was second.”
The record was set by Giles Pellerin, who attended 797 consecutive USC games, beginning in 1926. He died in the Rose Bowl parking lot in 1998 during the second half of the USC-UCLA game.
Coffee received a good amount of attention for his devotion to Alabama football. In 2010, ESPN.com named Coffee the No. 1 college football superfan in America.
Melton said he tried to get Coffee admitted to the A-Club.
“I thought he deserved to be an honorary member,” Melton said, “but they’re very strict on that and don’t permit anybody but that wasn’t a player.”
Coffee attended 65 consecutive Iron Bowl games. Melton was right there until he missed the game last year because of health problems.
There might not have been Iron Bowls, if not for Coffee and Melton. Alabama and Auburn stopped playing each other in football when a dispute followed the 1907 game.
“Dick and I worked from 1946 to ’48 trying to get the professors and presidents and everybody on both campuses to resume the relationship,” Melton said. “He was instrumental in getting that done.
“Dick and I both worked on a committee from the University of Alabama. Auburn had a student committee working on their administrators and professional people over there, and finally the two presidents had a secret meeting at the University of Alabama farm in Coosa County. They both shook hands on it and agreed to resume the series.
“Dick Coffee was a major reason for the resumption of that relationship.”
A native of Decatur, Coffee settled in Birmingham after graduating from Alabama in 1950 and began publishing Birmingham Doin’s and Tuscaloosa Doin’s, which highlighted publicized local concerts, nightclubs and restaurants. He expanded his publications to Huntsville, Montgomery and Decatur as well as Savannah, Ga., and Brunswick, Ga., but later scaled back to Birmingham. He also published the pocket-sized Dick Coffee's Football Guide, and the one-man operation eventually grew to two when his son, Dick Coffee III, joined the enterprise.
"One of his great friends from Decatur ... said one time that the thing that he loved about Dick Coffee was that after a game was over, you really couldn't tell who won," Dick III said. "He was always the same. That's a great lesson for a lot of us now these days, with all the bitterness and hatred about football."
Tentative arrangements are for a visitation from 9:30 to 11 a.m. CDT Tuesday at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham. The service will begin at 11 a.m.
“He had a full life,” Melton said. “He’s going to be missed. I can’t say enough good things about him.
“I never knew anybody who didn’t like Dick Coffee.”
“He always had a smile and a laugh,” Gaddy said. “He was just fun to be around.”